One of my favorite questions to ask salespeople is, “How many of you know who Tenzing Norgay is?”  This is usually returned by only blank stares.  Then I ask, “Who is Sir Edmond Hillary?”  Well over half of the people will say he was the first person to climb the tallest mountain in the world; Mount Everest.  They are correct that on May 29, 1953 he was the first climber to summit Everest at 29,029 feet — and Norgay was the one who safely got him there … and back.  Tenzing Norgay was his Sherpa, and was the one who knew how to get him there and back because he lived on the mountain his entire life.

As sales professionals look at their goals or quotas for 2020 and beyond, many will feel that the task is similar to climbing Everest.  We do not have the space here to remind you of all the challenges this year brought in terms of production, and many of those hurdles will linger well beyond 1/1/21.  The good news I want to share is that you have a trusty Sherpa of your own; your pipeline.  Whether you have a sophisticated CRM, or work off a spread sheet, here you will find some simple tips to effectively use your guide to success.

Building or Rejuvenating Your Pipeline for the Climb

Some sales producers stayed very busy during Covid-19, but many others saw their sales process shut down.  If you are in the latter category, here are some tactics to get your pipeline going again:

  1. Reach back out to prospects you were working before 3/2020. Many verticals are back to work and are looking to improve their operations.  If you bring value, get back in front of those prospects.  Hopefully you have been “dripping information” to them all along.
  2. Get back with your centers of influence (COIs) and discuss how to get the efforts that work for both sides going again. Ideally, bring a couple of prospects they would be interested in.  Use LinkedIn to find people they are connected to that you are interested in.  If you are on SalesNavigator, these connections are listed by strength of the relationship.
  3. Ask your clients to give you a warm door opening to targeted prospects you know they know. Again, LinkedIn is a valuable tool.  Never ask, “Who do you know that might be interested in working with me?”
  4. Launch vertically-focused campaigns to fresh prospects. Do your homework to qualify these firms and individuals.  As above, always bring value to them in these communications; whether by priority mail (preferred) or email.  Follow-up by phone is the only way you will secure appointments today, and it will take far more touches than most salespeople are willing to make.

Managing Your Pipeline for the Climb

This is the area I see far too many salespeople struggle with.  Ask them how many prospects they have in their pipeline, and many will give you a massive number.  Ask them how robust that pipeline is and you will get more blanks stares.  What I share below is simple; but do not confuse that with easy.

  1. Identify your pipeline categories. I recommend the following four classifications:
    1. Interest – These are prospects that you have qualified, or are in the process of qualifying. You need to protect them from other salespeople in your firm, and you need to set a calendar for contact.  You may have called them, and maybe even had a conversation, but there is no appointment.  Sales leaders should constrain this list.  I recommend about 100 to 150.
    2. Preliminaries – These are prospects you have set an appointment with, but have not had a Zoom call, met face-to-face, or had an extensive needs discovery phone conversation. My recommendation, depending on average account size, is that you aim to have at least five of these at all times.
    3. Semi-finals – Prospects in this category are those you have met with and there is a mutual desire to continue the conversations. Again, there should be at least five firms in this group at all times.
    4. Finals – With this group you have made a compelling case to win their business, and you are working out details, or waiting for their answer. You guessed it, there should be at least five here.

The mindset I always try to instill with the salespeople I work with is that prospects should be thought of in the same way your finance department looks at accounts receivables.  If bills are not paid in 30 days there is an issue, and if prospects stay in any stage but interest longer than 30 days there is an issue (depending on sales cycle).  If they are not moving forward, then move them out or back to the interest category.  Of course there are circumstances (for example prospect illness or a major organization change) that can override this time period constraint.

The View from the Peak

Climbing any mountain, let alone Everest, requires great strength and persistence.  Reaching your peak performance level also requires conditioning, strength, and yes, persistence.  One final question as you read this:  Are you enhancing and monitoring your sales pipeline weakly or weekly?  Today, more than ever, success is tied to weekly building and monitoring your path to higher elevations in your career.  Get there and you will absolutely love the view.

George Lucas, Ph.D. has been a resource to business development professionals for decades.  After a successful career in academia at both Texas A&M and the University of Memphis, he shifted his focus to training and consulting.  Among his other books, Lucas is the co-author of the New York Times, and Wall Street Journal Best Seller, The One Minute Negotiator, with Don Hutson; forward by Ken Blanchard.  He has assisted in the professional growth of sales professionals and sales leaders in multiple industries, and has conducted live and virtual sessions on six continents.